Every spiritual battle is on account of heavenly opposition to God’s purposes. But not every spiritual battle is all about the task(s) we are doing and what is happening around us. Sometimes it is all about who we are, and what God is doing with and in and through us.
In Matthew 4:1-11, we see Jesus being led out into the wilderness, “to be tempted by the devil.” That was a trial for Jesus because temptation is satan’s work of appealing to the flesh to frustrate God’s best. But it is also an object lesson for all of us who are likewise tempted, because Jesus overcame to God’s glory. Therefore, as often as we feel it, God uses our own temptation to also glorify Himself. For if we overcome we do so only by demonstrating the power of Christ in us to overcome, thereby demonstrating the result of Christ’s work. And if we fall in our temptation and subsequently cry out for mercy, we glorify God by becoming a demonstration of His mercy on account of Christ’s work. Although the former is far better, either way God is glorified. The only way to truly fail is to fall in temptation and not cry out for His mercy. Then we truly fail, for only then satan can use our failure for his own purpose.
One must also remember that Jesus’ trial in the wilderness wasn’t because Jesus was doing anything particularly damaging to satan’s kingdom. It was only that Jesus was existing in the flesh – and in reality, satan didn’t even initiate that trial. The Spirit led Jesus there to be tempted. Not because Jesus was to be ‘tried’ by the Father – as though He who had just said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” wanted to test whether His Son whom He loved and was pleased with was worthy of such love. Rather, it was that God wanted to humiliate satan all the more. For what could be more humiliating than getting advance notice that you would fail in your work before you even started working? Indeed, satan did fail in his attempt to overcome Jesus in the wilderness, and if satan couldn’t overcome Jesus before Jesus started His work, how much less could satan overcome Jesus when Christ was almost done His work? Momentum is a powerful thing.
The Father knew that. He knew that Jesus would overcome satan both in the wilderness and on the cross. He was serving satan notice. It was God saying, “I’m going to win, and you’re going to lose” right to adversary’s face in a language only His adversary could understand. Of course, satan didn’t see it that way. He saw an opportunity to ruin Jesus before Jesus’ ministry even started. He also didn’t see the cross as Jesus’ great victory. He saw it as his own victory. Satan may be smarter than any human, but compared to God he is downright stupid.
God is not stupid. Nor is He unkind. He sent Jesus to earth to accomplish something He knew Jesus could accomplish. He led Jesus to the wilderness to be tempted in an outrageously bold provocation, knowing Jesus would roundly defeat the tempter and at the same time greatly encourage all of us who read of what happened. God is good, and God is wise. And God is gracious. “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” He may have led Jesus out to the wilderness to be tried, but the moment His own purposes are complete in that trial He immediately sends refreshment and encouragement. Not just because Jesus needed that (though He in the flesh likely did), but almost undoubtedly because it was the fulfillment of the very verse of Psalm 91 that satan quoted to try to trick Jesus, “For he will command his angels concerning you.” It was refreshment and encouragement for Christ at the right time, and the timing was rubbing salt in satan’s wound.
Our temptations are never just about us. We may think they are. We may even feel like they surely are. But every time we are tempted, God is also at work. Every time we are tempted it is a reminder that God’s mission to ruin satan is ongoing. Every time it is a reminder that we are the chief beneficiaries. Every time we overcome and every time we cry out for mercy, God is glorified – and satan is further humiliated. Amen.
Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe! But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.C.S. Lewis, from The Chronicles of Narnia
Praise God that He is always at work in our lives to His purpose and His glory!